Senate committee reviews 10-year highway plan
CONCORD — The state’s 10-year highway improvement plan contains three key projects for the state: the Interstate-93 expansion between Salem and Manchester, rebuilding the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and expanding a section of Route 101 in Bedford.
There was little discussion on those three projects at a public hearing on House Bill 2014 Tuesday before the Senate Transportation Committee, which will vote on the transportation blueprint Tuesday.
The bill’s prime sponsor, House Public Works and Highways Committee Chair Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, said the 10-year plan was designed to work with Senate Bill 367, the 4.2-cent gas tax increase lawmakers approved this session.
He urged the Senate to leave unfunded turnpike projects in the plan, including expanding I-93 from Bow through Concord and I-293 through the Millyard, and eliminating the Merrimack ramp tolls if and when the Bedford toll plaza moves south of the Manchester airport access road. The toll plaza move is also unfunded and depends on a future increase in tolls to be completed.
“You want the legislature not (the Department of Transportation) deciding what the priorities should be,” Campbell said, “if there is more revenue.”
He noted unfunded projects in the last 10-year plan are funded projects in this year’s proposal, such as the widening of the F.E. Everett Turnpike from two to three lanes from Exit 8 to the I-293 junction.
When the bill was before the House, Campbell said the Bedford section of Route 101 beyond the Route 114 and Boynton Street intersection “is probably the most dangerous section of road in the state.”
The road is way above capacity and has been the scene of more than 500 accidents in the last 10 years, Campbell said.
The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is the state’s No. 1 red-listed bridge, Campbell said and “absolutely crucial to the (Portsmouth Naval Shipyard) and the economic welfare of both New Hampshire and Maine.”
The current structure is too narrow for the next generation of freight tankers carrying oil, propane, salt and other products into Portsmouth Harbor.
Without widening the stanchions, Portsmouth Harbor would be obsolete, Campbell said.
Maine and New Hampshire will split the cost of the $160 million project.
Under the 10-year plan, the state would issue Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles or GARVEE bonds to pay for its share of the work on the bridge, and use about $50 million in federal grant money to continue work on the I-93 expansion and $8 million of the federal money for widening Route 101 in Bedford.
Transportation Committee member Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, asked if the plan contained money for Concord to Manchester bus service, a one-year pilot program run through the Manchester Transit Authority.
Bill Cass, Transportation Department Director of Project Development, said the pilot program is about to be extended for a year, but Boutin said he would like to see the money specifically in the 10-year plan so it cannot be used for something else.
The 10-year plan also takes $1.2 million a year earmarked for guard rail replacement and uses it for secondary road rehabilitation projects, and redirects $1.1 million for turnpike exit renumbering to paving projects on rural roads.
The bill passed the House on an unrecorded vote in March.
The Senate will vote on the bill next month.